The section of the show floor at CES dedicated to drones continues to expand with each passing year. But this year definitely highlighted that many drones are now being used to signify “high tech” capabilities, when in fact they are just cheap toys at best, cynical marketing gimmicks at worst.
You can velcro three rings of black cardboard to the top of a Parrot Bebop and call it a “Magic Air Cleaner,” but you’re not fooling anyone. Well, actually you are. The same goes for the $250,000 military grade drone being displayed without a battery, camera, sensors, or processor onboard. At that point, you’re showing off a plastic prop.
I’m not hating on toys. Lots of people will buy and enjoy Star Wars-themed drones, or tiny quadcopters that can shoot plastic pellets. A $50 drone that can be blasted out of the air with a tennis ball and keep on flying is definitely something I would like to find under the Christmas tree. But any claims to cutting edge innovation from these cheaper brands should be viewed very skeptically.
I’m betting that this is the year the bubble bursts on the consumer drone market. DJI’s dominance makes it tough to compete on anything but niche products like racing drones and pocket sized units optimized for selfies. The actual consumer demand for those quirky items definitely doesn’t justify the dozens of brands and multiple showcases devoted to drones at this year’s show. But if these aerial robots continue to prove a useful marketing gimmick, drawing crowds of onlookers and press eager for a visual spectacle, the buzz of drones around CES may continue to grow.